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Posts Tagged ‘Stefan Zweig’

Is There a Vespa?: An Interview with Michael Hofmann

December 4, 2014 | by

Hofmann, Michael (C) Thomas Andenmatten

Photo © Thomas Andenmatten

Michael Hofmann’s first collection of poems, Nights in the Iron Hotel, came in 1984, and in the ensuing thirty years he has translated more than sixty novels from the German and published five more poetry collections, along the way collecting numerous prizes for his work. He is the editor of an anthology, Twentieth-Century German Poetry, and in 2002 published a collection of critical essays, Behind the Lines. (This is far from a comprehensive accounting.) The thirty essays in his new collection, Where Have You Been?, visit a range of poets, novelists, and artists of the last hundred years, including Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Thomas Bernhard, Kurt Schwitters, and Frederick Seidel.

Hofmann’s essays are intense inquiries: he tunnels deeply, engages profoundly, and whether or not he likes what he’s read or seen, his essays ennoble the work under review. There’s a sense of humor, even joy, electrifying the enterprise. Of course, his criticism can pulverize, too—Günter Grass and Stefan Zweig are destroyed in Where Have You Been?—but most of Hofmann’s selections tend toward the form of one reader grabbing another’s sleeve and shouting, Come on now, this way! You’ve got to see this!

Though Hofmann doesn’t keep a computer at home—“usual Luddite setup,” he said at one point—this interview was conducted over e-mail. On a couple of occasions, he wrote from a stand-up terminal in a municipal library.

You’ve written that contemporary American poetry is “a civil war, a banal derby between two awful teams.” In Britain, it’s “a variety show.” These are grim assessments.

Discouraging, isn’t it? It’s just a fact that there are never very many poets around at any given time. I think poetry is always one or two poets away from extinction anyway. If it’s any comfort, it’s not a living tradition—it doesn’t depend on being passed from hand to hand. It could easily go underground for a couple of decades, or a couple of centuries, and then return. People disappear, or never really existed at all, and then come back—Propertius, Hölderlin, Dickinson, Büchner, Smart. Poetry is much more about remaking or realigning the past than it is about charting the contemporary scene. It’s a long game. Read More »

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Big in 2014

May 7, 2014 | by

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Stefan Zweig in 1900.

Last night, I attended a talk at the New York Public Library between Paul Holdengräber and George Prochnik, the author of The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World. Three different publishers were involved; the room was packed and attentive. In the mysterious way of such things, Stefan Zweig is, after some sixty years of obscurity in the United States, having A Moment. Wes Anderson helps, of course; Grand Budapest Hotel was a tribute to Zweig’s work, and is the cause of much of the renewed interest. But that someone like Zweig—once the toast of the international literati—came to Anderson’s attention in the first place shows signs of the mysterious forces that create such ebbs and flows. What makes a trend? Maybe it has a bit to do with something Prochnik said last night: no one can engage in the work of biography without at least some belief in ghosts.

Spiritualism aside, I am told that the trends for 2014 encompass everything: chocolate-chip-cookie milk-shots, dressing like superheroes, indie crossover R&B. There seem to be a great many cozy dystopias appearing in films. I won’t even speculate on apps. Or exercise.

I can’t tell you why these things have found such popularity. Certainly, I can tell you anecdotally that all of a sudden everyone seems to be reading Stoner, by John Williams. We appreciate good weather as we never have, but we are wary of being made fools of. It is hard to buy clothing, even cheap clothing, without filtering everything through something intellectual. It is okay to talk about insurance, sometimes. I don’t know if it is a product of these ghostly forces, but for the first time in my life I have felt an irresistible urge to drink sidecars. All I know is that in order for these things to take any kind of hold, they must feel like revelations to someone, if only for a moment, before they pretend that they knew all along and then have to reject it as obvious. Is that occult? Read More »

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Unbelievably, Wonderfully Grand

March 6, 2014 | by

Wes Anderson, Stefan Zweig, and their sumptuous surroundings.

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A still from The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Looking at this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay, Bill Morris at The Millions grumbled that “Hollywood screenwriters need to mix more fiction into their diet.” He can at least give a pass to Wes Anderson, whose new film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is based not just on one novel but on an entire oeuvre—that of Stefan Zweig, an Austrian writer whose work Anderson has helped revive. In fact, Zweig’s influence on Anderson is so profound that the filmmaker compiled The Society of the Crossed Keys, a new anthology of Zweig’s work. Unfortunately, the collection is only available in the UK, but its constituents—Zweig’s memoir, the novel Beware of Pity, and the novella “Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman”—can be found separately in the US.

Both Zweig and Budapest find comedy and melancholy in the changing landscape of 1930s Europe, and Anderson is quick to admit his debt to Zweig. The film features two characters meant as stand-ins for the writer—there’s the hotel’s nostalgic, effete concierge, M. Gustave, and the unnamed Author, who appears throughout as a narrator and interlocutor. But Zweig’s influence on Anderson extends far beyond this latest film. Though Anderson says he came across Zweig’s books only six or seven years ago, the pair have long shared similar themes and aesthetics, even if Anderson didn’t know it.

For starters, consider their fastidious preoccupation with appearance. In an essay examining The Royal Tenenbaums against J. D. Salinger—another of Anderson’s literary influences—Matt Zoller Seitz established a concept called “material synecdoche—showcasing objects, locations, or articles of clothing that define whole personalities, relationships, or conflicts.” Anderson uses his meticulously designed mise-en-scène as visual shorthand for his characters. It’s how we understand the Tenenbaums from their wardrobe, their childhood bedrooms, and the way the opening scene itemizes the things in those rooms. It’s one of Anderson’s favorite storytelling mechanisms—think of Moonrise Kingdom, in which Sam Shakusky’s raccoon hat and glasses set him apart from the rest of the Khaki Scouts; think of Max Fischer’s red beret in Rushmore. In Anderson’s work, the exterior reliably informs the interior. Read More »

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The First-Ever Fuck, and Other News

February 12, 2014 | by

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Image via io9

  • Behold: the first written use of fuck, from 1528, inscribed by a monk who seems to have been pretty pissed off with an abbot.
  • “Kicking against the pricks becomes rather less impressive when the pricks have melted away.” Taking a hatchet to the Hatchet Job of the Year.
  • Wes Anderson’s new film, Grand Budapest Hotel, is by his own admission “more or a less a plagiarism” of the works of Stefan Zweig. Will the movie renew American interest in Zweig’s writing?
  • An “edit-a-thon” aims to close the gender gap on Wikipedia, to which far more men contribute than women. Though as the Newsweek reporter Katie Baker tweeted, “Maybe few women edit Wikipedia because they do enough thankless unpaid labor already.”
  • “Emptying the Skies,” Jonathan Franzen’s 2010 essay on the poaching of migratory songbirds, is soon to be a documentary.
  • Toby Barlow’s Write-a-House, a residency program that gives houses to writers, is still a bit shy of its fundraising goal, but there’s a week left in the campaign—help out.

 

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What We’re Loving: YA, Sci-Fi, Street Art, and Zweig

September 20, 2013 | by

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Galvanized by the interview with Ursula Le Guin in our current issue, and recalling my love for her first three Earthsea books, I’ve embarked upon the second set in the series, which she began nearly two decades after the original trio. The long stories in Tales from Earthsea have been keeping me company late at night, the perfect companion for my recent bouts of insomnia. Though they function as back stories for characters and events in the earlier books, they’re also highly enjoyable as standalone narratives. What the best fantasy does—and what Le Guin does in spades—is give the impression that even when the book stops, the world inside its pages continues to exist beyond the bounds of the author’s invention. Upon her return to writing about Earthsea, Le Guin herself found that to be true: “What I thought was going to happen isn’t what’s happening, people aren’t who—or what—I thought they were, and I lose my way on islands thought I knew by heart.” —Nicole Rudick

After Sadie wrote about The Disaster Artist last week, I couldn’t help but pick up the book myself. I had seen The Room years ago—and the film’s as inexplicable as you’ve heard—but I was captivated by the unlikely bromance between a struggling actor and an enigmatic filmmaker at the core of the story. Yes, there are plenty of hilarious making-of stories, but it’s a sincere portrait of the rewards and peril of having an artistic vision you’re 100 percent committed to expressing. For the uninitiated: check out the book trailer here. —Justin Alvarez

Blek le Rat’s solo exhibition “Ignorance Is Bliss” lured me to the Jonathan LeVine Gallery this week, and his stenciled canvases have since been burned into my retinas. In these large, often monochromatic images, strewn with thick swashes of black, the viewer sees such forms as the oracle Sibyl from Greek antiquity, via appropriation of Michelangelo’s Libyan Sibyl. Grace permeates the canvas; Blek subverts this with a skull tattoo on Sibyl’s arm. In a six-foot canvas we see several children playing tug-of-war with one of his iconic rats. On a nearby pedestal is Blek’s first work in sculpture, a small bronze statue of David holding a Kalashnikov while a rat gazes up from below. Seeing the culmination of thirty years of the Parisian-born street artist’s work, we experience both its sociopolitical resolve and the familiarity of his tightly controlled spray-paint forms; he innovated stencils and rats, and others took cues from him, or, indeed, lifted his entire style. For those who know street art through Banksy, here’s what the famously elusive artist allegedly said of Blek: “Every time I think I’ve painted something slightly original, I find out that Blek le Rat has done it as well, only twenty years earlier.” And should you notice a stenciled Andy Warhol or a gas mask surrounded by rats on a wall in Brooklyn, that too, was Blek. —Adam Winters

Long before I went to work at Jezebel, I was a devoted fan of Lizzie Skurnick’s late, lamented “Fine Lines” column, in which she paid tribute to unjustly forgotten YA classics. So, like many people, I was thrilled when I heard about Lizzie Skurnick Books, an imprint devoted to just these titles. The series kicks off with a bang: the great Lois Duncan’s 1958 Debutante Hill. The book, Duncan’s first, is a classic coming-of-age page-turner with a protagonist you root for. But like all her fiction, it deals with real issues of class, social consciousness, and growing up with seriousness and sensitivity, and is as fresh and engaging today as it was upon its publication. But then, that is what Skurnick has always understood about these books: at their best, they are literature in the true sense of the word, and by no means only for young readers. (Although it’s exciting to think of a new generation discovering them.) —Sadie Stein

Since the current issue of The Paris Review features an excerpt from Jonathan Franzen’s upcoming translation of Karl Kraus, I figured it would be thematically appropriate to tout Stefan Zweig’s autobiography, The World of Yesterday. (A shame, incidentally, about that title translation. In English, it sounds a little too much like a depressing expo installation; the book’s elegiac tone is more successfully rendered in the German original, Die Welt von Gestern.) As Kraus’s contemporary, Zweig’s memoir is useful reading for anyone interested in the social milieu of fin de siècle Vienna, and the precipitous decline of the Hapsburg Empire. Zweig’s dewy-eyed recollection of the prewar years in Vienna, not to mention his gushing description of boy wonder Hugo von Hofmannsthal, also provide a nice counterbalance to the eternally acerbic Kraus. —Fritz Huber

 

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Helpmeets, Field Guides, Burning Questions

July 26, 2012 | by

  • “Few couples have had as complicated and even posthumous a relationship as Friderike Burger and Stefan Zweig, the Austrian Jewish writer who was and continues to be one of the most widely translated German-language authors in the world.”
  • The eternal question, really: What would happen if fonts were superheroes?
  • The other eternal question: What would happen if great authors were Olympics commentators?
  • Vote for the best YA novel ever written.
  • A field guide to the American blurb. An endangered species?
  • The Man Booker long list is announced.
  • Oh no! Citing rising operating costs, the Bowery Poetry Club joins the list of closing literary landmarks.
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